The Social History of Childhood

The details
Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
21 April 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA L520 Childhood Studies,
BA L521 Childhood Studies (Including Year Abroad),
BA L522 Childhood Studies (Including Placement Year),
BA L523 Childhood Studies (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

In this module, students will learn to reflect critically on the history of childhood. The module examines how childhood has been conceptualised in the past; analyses different ideological models of a 'child'; and considers the diverse lived experiences of children. Throughout the last two hundred years, ‘childhood’ has been the object of intense social concern and debate, as something to be managed, safeguarded, shaped, idealised or demonised, developed, promoted or commercialised as the case may be. Focusing on Britain (in order to make the most of local resources and to contextualise contemporary practice), we will cover some key events in the development of modern social policies towards children, but we will do so in the context of particular debates and arguments about children’s lives and experiences. In this sense, the history of childhood is very much the history of conversations by adults and changing groups of professionals about children. However, throughout the module, we will also explore what life was like for children in the past and how it was shaped by social and cultural shifts. We will explore excerpts from written documents, vignettes from oral history, and material culture to get an understanding of the enormous changes in the diverse experiences, living conditions, and rights of children. This angle on the experience of childhood will be supplemented by a field trip and supported by the first assessment task.

The module supplies an important background context to the themes introduced in year 1 and also links to issues of the ‘representation’ of children explored in ‘Wild Things: Literature, Childhood, Psychoanalysis’ this year.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give students a broad historical overview of changing conceptualisations of childhood and the lived experiences of children since the late eighteenth century.

  • To examine how understandings of childhood and children's experiences have been shaped by political, economic, social, national, and international contexts.

  • To introduce students to the changing relationship between parents, children, and the state

  • To give students historical contexts through which to understand the development of modern educational and social policy around children.

  • To develop students’ skills in analysing the material culture of childhood

  • To use the historical understanding as a springboard for critical reflection on, and evaluation of, the shifting meanings of childhood.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of key developments in the history of childhood in Britain since the late eighteenth century.

  2. Demonstrate an understanding of changing conceptualisation of childhood and the diverse lived experiences of children.

  3. Analyse key debates over the historical construction of childhood.

  4. Demonstrate an understanding of the changing relationship between children, parents, and the state.

  5. Demonstrate knowledge of formative moments in educational and social policy towards children and the historical context for this.

  6. Analyse and interpret material culture and construct a historical argument in written form.

Module information


Introduction: Why the History of Childhood and What is a (Historical) Child?

Innocence and Deviance: Childhood and Parental Affection in History

Children and the Family

Children at Work

Waifs, Strays, and Delinquents: Rescue and Migration

Children of the State: Welfare and Schooling

Field Trip

The Scientific Child: From Child Study to Child Guidance

The Anxious Child: War and Child Psychoanalysis

The Century of Childhood? Children in the Twentieth Century

Learning and teaching methods

9 x one-hour lectures 9 x one-hour seminars 1 x field trip 1 x 2-hr revision seminar


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Object or Document Analysis    30% 
Coursework   Essay    70% 

Additional coursework information

1 x Object or Document Analysis (30%), 1 x 2,500 word essay (70%)

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Katharina Rowold, email:
Student administrator, room 5A.202, telephone 01206 874969, 01206 874969 Room 5A.202 Undergraduate student administrator: 01206 874969 Room 5A.202



External examiner

Prof Heather Montgomery
The Open University
Professor of Anthropology and Childhood
Available via Moodle
Of 41 hours, 40 (97.6%) hours available to students:
1 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


Further information

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